Nat does art every day at school. For a while it was all markers, but these days, there's been a lot of paint. Thought I'd share.
First up, we have standard Nat style, which always includes both ground (a horizontal slash across the bottom) and a sun (here, it is purple, found in the top right-hand corner). This picture also includes, according to Nat, lots of stars and planets:
Next, we enter the self-portrait genre. Here you can see that Nat is wearing sunglasses, and no wonder, since the sun in this case, is bright yellow. There's no ground here, but there is an odd third appendage there at the bottom of the person. When asked, Nat explained that the third appendage is a penis, because "in this picture, I am pretending to be a boy." Well okay, then.
Most days, Selina stays home with either a mom or a baby sitter while Nat gets dropped at school, but last week, Selina came along to drop off. Apparently, Nat thought about her sister all day, because she burst out of the classroom at pickup, and barreled into Selina, handing her all the papers she had done that day. Almost all of them had Selina's name on them, but I liked this one the best. If I was Selina, I'd make up some personal stationery featuring this picture:
Nat has been pretending she can't read at school. That is, she has been pretending to haltingly sound out three-letter words that she has known by sight since she was two. When she does this, the adult in charge (I think it all began with a week of substitute teaching) was praising her highly, not expecting her to be able to do it. Nat was eating up the praise, gathering that most of her peers (I think all but BFF, J) can't read--or are only just beginning to read and adjusting her behavior accordingly.
I got my first clue when we had new babysitter, W, come over for the first time. I had given Nat a very simple thank you note to copy out for my mother, for the presents she had sent the girls. I didn't expect her to copy it perfectly, but figured it would be nice for her to give it her best shot. It was along the lines of "Dear Grammy, Thank you for the dog, trucks, blocks. Love, nat and Selina." She could write all of those things and has done, on her own initiative with invented spelling. She has never written that much at once (unless you count her spontaneous ABC lists), but anyway, I was just gonna give it a try and see what she might be willing to do. In short, no pressure.
Step one, I said, "Nat, here's the note you can copy. What does it say?" Mind you, there's not a word on the note she hasn't known by instant sight for two years. But she looks up at new babysitter, W, makes big eyes, tilts her head and says "I don't kno-ow!"
I was dumbfounded.
So I told her, "W knows you can read, because she has seen you read the menu at the restaurant" (where W is a waitress we've known for a while). And Nat immediately switches gears, says, "oh," and reads the note out.
I itched about that all through the holiday trip East and back again via blizzardy Ohio and when we arrived home, Cole picked up all the mail and there was a letter from Nat's teacher, thanking her for her part in the class teacher gift. It was two pages long and chatty and written in adult-style half-print-half-handwriting, not at all intended to be read BY the child to whom it was addressed, but TO the child, right? Nat, however, tears it open with glee (she was super excited about getting a letter from her teacher) and reads it out nearly flawlessly (she got stuck on handwriting a couple of times) with great enthusiasm and perfect inflection and comprehension, etc.
Well, I had laid aside that thank you note to my mother, so I took it and the teacher's note to school and laid them side-by-side and told the story of Nat's experience with each.
Now the teacher was dumbfounded.
But she engaged me in a discussion about the whole thing for about half an hour (we had only scheduled twenty minutes) and to talk to her, I would have thought Nat was her only student and perhaps the only student she had ever had in her teaching career. She was fabulous.
I told her I don't want Nat accelerated or anything, but I certainly don't want her learning that it's not okay to be as smart as she is. Mind you, I actually believe that someday, it will serve her well to know when to let people know she's a genius and when to demur. But now? It's about peer conformity and social approval and that's not serving her.
Nat is in a three-six-year old classroom with a half dozen kids who come 90 minutes early for "kindergarten enrichment." We aren't putting her in the extra two hours (partly because it costs more) but the teacher has been encouraging Nat to work more with those older kids on more academic tasks and she's come home with some books she's written and shapes she's cut out and identified, etc.
The bottom line is, I am still over the moon about the school and Nat is even more so. And the fact is, with only a three-hour school day, we are still home schooling. We have "unschool" all morning in which the girls just play, play play in their rooms together (and get along about 90%) and I add little lessons throughout the day in drips and drops. For example, lately, we've been talking about water, ice and steam and other aspects of the water cycle. This emerged naturally when Nat and I saw all the ice on the lake while driving to school. Nat said it was silly that somebody put ice in the water, so I clarified for her how it got there. I got her a book about weather at our favorite book store and we've been reading up on ice and hail and snow and rain and clouds and--Nat's favorite--rainbows.
Nat can go for a half day (well, plus the extra kindergarten time) for another year before there's only a full day option. That will make her six and a half when she starts full days. Right now, I can't fathom it, but in another three semesters and two summers? I'll probably be more than ready, right?
Nat has this crazy habit of asking me for something, then, when I've said no, turning to Cole and asking her for the same thing--even though Cole was right there when I said no. Cole keeps saying, "Mama Shannon and I are on the same team!" The other day, she added, "the parent team!" To which, Nat responded, "and Selina and me are the kid team!"
How very true that is. They are, indeed, already ganging up on us--purposefully, I mean. And it's worrying, because they are both shaping up to be scary-smart.
You know, we were aware that Nat was a super-genius. We are in enough awe of that. But now, at 2 and a half, here comes Selina. She is not reading a couple dozen sight words as Nat was doing at her age, but she is speaking in (lispy, baby-talk) grammatically, syntactically correct paragraphs using vocabulary beyond her years (months?).
Also. Selina started sleeping in a real bed a couple of months ago. By real, I mean, the trundle we took from under Nat's twin bed. (They sleep in different rooms, however.) It took her a while to realize that she was free to move about her room, now that the crib was no more. But once she did, she quickly developed this pattern:
We put her to bed a la the usual routine of books and songs and rocking and hugs and kisses etc.
She gets up, turns on her light and reads books in her bed. (She "reads" out loud, from memory, or makes up stories based on the pictures.) Then, after 30-60 minutes, she puts away the books (after a fashion), turns the light back off and goes to bed. Seriously.
Our strategy is to pretend we don't know she's doing this. But the whole time we are listening to her read to herself. It's gut-wrenchingly adorable. Now, Nat might try the same thing, but it's more of a challenge to our lights-out policy, rather than just a pleasant "I will read until I'm ready to sleep" personal routine, like with the guileless Selina.
I say Selina isn't reading like Nat, but of course, she could if she was the elder/only child getting Mama Shannon's games with learning words. On the other hand, Nat loved that game, and I don't think Selina would be as into it.
But she is into letters and words more and more these days. And I think she may end up an early reader too, if only because Nat teaches her (poor neglected second kid). Here's an example:
Selina: (reading aloud to self) "B-R-O-O-M-I"
Nat: "No, Selina, it's a V, not a B, and that's an exclamation point, not an I! See? V-R-O-O-M: 'Vroom!'"
Selina: "B-R-O-O-M: 'broom!'"
Nat: "No, Selina, V, not B!"
Poor Selina, in fact means V, but she has a bit of a speech thing going on. For example, "Mama Shannon, I want to sweep wiff you!"
"You want to sweep with me?"
"No, Mama Shannon, not sweep, sweep!"
I know, I shouldn't tease her. But it was funny.
And don't worry, my ears are open to make sure her speech clears properly as she gets older. It's much clearer now than it used to be and she's still pretty little. But if she seems to need any help, we are, of course, on it.
And that's the adorable children report for the New Year.
I made a difficult decision yesterday and today I'm feeling really good about it.
I'm chucking the first novel and focusing on the second, which will now be the first.
I have been mulling it for awhile and--I know, I know--some of you suggested it back when I told you the second one was so much better than the first. But you know, I was quite attached to that first book. Because it was my first book. It has taken a little while, but I woke up this morning feeling hopeful about this whole fiction-writing thing for the first time in weeks, remembering my decision.
As a writer of nonfiction, I know how absolutely critical it is to be able to toss work you've done to do better work. And I know how hard it is to do, yet I've mastered it. But a whole book? That just seemed too hard. And yet, the more I tried to revise it, the worse I felt about it. I just couldn't revise it into what I felt was the quality of the second book--on the first draft.
The fact is, I learned to write fiction on that first book. I began not really knowing if I could write fiction and by the time I got to the end, I had found that I could, but there was a clear learning curve right there in the pages of the text. After the revisions, I do feel really good about the first section of the first book--I do feel I revised it to a high enough quality to please me. But now there's a different problem I just can't revise away. And that is the problem of genre. The book begins looking really, really like your standard (well, maybe not standard, but...) romance novel. Then it morphs into something...not...a romance novel. But selling it is just not a simple matter. Romance people have shown interest in it, then when they look at a bigger piece of it, they decline. Non-romance people are like "I don't do romance" and decline sooner. And this can't be revised away. I do think the narrative makes logical sense--if complexly--but I just don't think it's a good choice for a debut novel. It's just too confusing. It requires too much hand-wringing and explanation.
Now, the second book? I feel really confident about. The only question is, can I really make it stand alone/be a first book when it was originally envisioned as a sequel? And I think I can. It's actually an excellent exercise for me, because I really want all the books I have planned to stand alone, in spite of sharing settings and characters and plot elements. So I'm doing a little audit on Book Two now, to smooth out those places that were clunky reminders of Book One plot points and make it all original. And it's going rather more easily than I thought it would when I first started mulling the idea.
I have this little personal pantheon of lesbian novelists I fantasize about being BFFs with and when I was banging my head against the Book One revisions wall, I just couldn't imagine them giving me the time of day. Book Two? I feel I could hold my head up in their company. Sure, this is all in my head, but boy am I realizing just how important it is to have the right things in my head when writing fiction!
Now, some of you have been absolutely FABULOUS and have read early drafts of Book One and given me invaluable feedback. Two things 1) In the end, however I resisted at first, I have taken every scrap of your excellent advice and the book is virtually unrecognizable from what you read for me (in the best possible way) and for that I am eternally grateful. There is no way I could have improved it so much on my own and I really appreciate your honest feedback. 2) I said I was chucking it, but what I'm really doing is tucking it away. I will come back to it someday, I am 100% certain. It will be a longed-for prequel when my fans are wondering How It All Began, right? I just need to step away from it for a good while and come back to it fresh much later.
In other news, I owe you folks a sonnet. I have an idea and the first two lines, but this week, I think I'll be late. I was ill in bed for three solid days this week and am not really 100% better yet. It's a shame, because the sonnet is Winter Solstice themed and I was hoping to post it today. I suppose it could still happen, but probably not. I suppose maybe I'll get it up here by tomorrow and it will still be cool.
Slight improvement over last week, I think. This is based on a true story of how I had to go across the country (um, the country of England, that is) on an emergency basis on the day before my twenty-first birthday. And there was a crazy blizzard the like of which Southern England had not seen in fifty years. And BritRail was stumped. And then I got really lost when I did manage to arrive at my destination. Not sure why I thought of it. But I figured it was as good sonnet fodder as anything else. Well, not really. But anything that came to my mind this week.
The Wrong Kind of Snow, 1991
When I turned twenty-one it snowed all night
And in the morning all the trains were stalled
I set out for the station before light
I told them “Epsom” and they were appalled
“You cannot get there in this kind of snow,”
The ticket agent argued with a frown
But I stood my ground at her small window
And in the end I got to Epsom town.
Circling around my goal in snowdrift dark
I searched for my hotel room in the cold
No sleeping town had ever been so stark
As midnight struck, I suddenly grew old
I wonder where the dancer is today
Who turned nineteen on that year’s shared birthday?
I got two rejections in the past twelve hours or so. Neither was a surprise. Actually, one was kind of a pleasant surprise, because it had been out a while and often enough, I've found, agents don't tell you when they pass. So there's a folder in my bookmarks of agents queried that never move into the rejection folder. The loose ends are aggravating.
It's not bothering me too much. There's a little twinge, a whisper of doubt about the writing in the back of my head, but mostly I chalk it up to a another days' work and actually, to progress, because at least now I know I need to move on.
I have been accruing a few agent and editor acquaintances (mostly via Twitter, who knew?) and through links and clicks and second and third hand referrals, accumulating knowledge of this particular area of publishing. The thing is, one agent/editor/blog/website will say "dear god, for pity's sake don't EVER do X!" then another will say "geez, why is no one doing X! You've got to do X, people!" And if you ask five of them is Y is helpful, one will say "No." One will say "YES!" One will say, "well, it depends." One will say, "only if also Z." One will give you an inscrutable emoticon in response and leave you scratching your head. The upshot is each and every query demands a ton of research into that individual's preferences, ideas, philosophy, style, etc. And you know, actually, it's kind of fun. I seriously kind of enjoy that part. But it can get annoying to be told (not ME being told, but to read general info for the general public including me) that something is absolute and carved in stone, when in fact it's only so for the person doing the telling/writing/tweeting/whatever.
So again with the darts in the dark. Because you just never know when what you've done is going to align perfectly with what some agent thinks you should do or misalign entirely. And so I for one believe the rejections that say "this is not a good fit, but that's no commentary on your project."
Mind you, I'm cynical enough to know that sometimes it is a commentary on my (or anyone's) project. I can only imagine the slush to be found in those slush piles. Really. Me? I could NEVER do what agents do. I laugh when people say "famous, rich, successful Writer X was rejected fourhundredandseventythree times!" Because you know what? For every rich famous, successful writer who was rejected a lot, there are approximately twelve million losers who never published a sentence fragment who were also rejected a lot. While success may = a history of rejection, the inverse is not, by any means, necessarily true.